Patrik, Age 1.5
Written and directed by Ella Lemhagen
Starring: Gustaf Skarsgård, Thomas Ljungman, Torkel Petersson, Annika Hallin and Amanda Davin
Run Time: 98 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Swedish with English subtitles
Ah me, the perils of moving to the country! Especially if you happen to be that most modern of 21st Century families, two married gay Swedes trying to adopt.
No doubt we’ll soon be inundated with gay-parent comedies, and few of them will prove to be as incisive and funny and honest as Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are Alright.
But Patrik, Age 1.5 has the saving grace of being one of the earliest, and also being Swedish at a time when suddenly Swedish things are cool. It also has a persuasive performance in the title role, played by newcomer Thomas Ljungman.
In Ella Lemhagen’s droll little Nordic comedy, stereotypical gay couple Sven and Gustav determine to live their dream life in a cute village filled with neighbors who are constantly giving cookouts and birthday parties. This is a borderline Edward Scissorhands setting, with none of the whimsy but some of the menace. The neighbors are outwardly polite in a passive aggressive way. But their children are frankly hostile homophobes who taunt the pair and vandalize their mailbox.
Sven (Torkel Petersson) is a bit of a gay stud with gym-buffed body and a very short fuse, while Goran (Gustav Skarsgard) is a sweet-natured and loving homebody who jogs and gardens. So far, so clichéd. As they arrange matching pastel pottery on the IKEA shelving together and fill the flowerbeds, they visualize the cute bundle they will soon be welcoming from the Stork, or rather from the Swedish social services. To the wry amusement of Sven’s former wife and the undisguised contempt of Sven’s punk teenage daughter, they dress up the attic with a cot and fluffy toys.
Sven, we soon learn, was not a particularly good father when he was married to a woman. But he intends to make an effort to improve as a gay father married to a man.
Alas, the social services abruptly announce no babies from overseas are available to gay couples. They ask for a Swedish child instead (“Or a Danish child! Well okay, not a Danish child…”) but are told that their chances are still slim. Despondently, the couple endures evenings of a desperately boring diet of TV nature documentaries on an IKEA sofa, until one happy day they get a call telling them to expect the arrival of fifteen-month-old baby Patrik.
So when a 15-year-old of the same name turns up at the door, they’re dumbfounded. This isn’t Patrik the infant. A hardened delinquent who hates gays and isn’t afraid to say so, this is Patrik the teen runaway who has no parents and who nobody wants. Yes, the social services made a mistake; they misplaced a decimal after his name.
Thus far the comedy feels more than a little over-prescriptive. Swedish humor? Let’s say you won’t be rolling around on the floor, even though occasional sly digs like the anti-Danish line may make them split their sides in northern latitudes.
But quite suddenly Patrik Age 1.5 becomes an interesting and quirky human drama. Patrik is played by Thomas Ljungman, a very young star in the making who manages to wring every ounce of adolescent alienation out of Patrik’s own personal tragedy, giving us enough raw feeling – and Goran too, eventually – to come round to his side and believe whatever he feels, despite the script’s flatfooted predictability.
But not the firebrand Sven, who locks him Patrik the nursery and drags him to the social services, to the police the next day, then goes out on an epic drunken spree after Goran decides Patrik can stay as long as he has nowhere else to go.
Sven is obviously no role model for gay parenting. While Patrik is showing a surprising talent for gardening, Goran warms towards the orphaned runaway, and Sven’s punk daughter is growing interested in the new family member, too. Sven feels rejected, and his behavior towards Patrik is so obnoxious that Goran and Patrik become closer and finally Goran throws Sven out, choosing Patrik over his husband and saying, “Everybody needs a family, and I’m going to make sure you get one.”
Lemhagen has several other comedies under her belt. Like her fellow Scandinavian Lone Scherfig, she has a tooth for mordantly black humor in her situation comedies, which raises them out of the run-of-the-mill comedic breed. The homophobia in her movie is a little bit hard to fathom, but it’s very easy to read the bleeding heart at its center. Not surprisingly, Patrick Age 1.5 won a following at the Toronto Film Festival.